Diet Coke: It Hurts So Good


I have a drinking problem, a diet problem, and a coke problem. More accurately, I have a drinking Diet Coke problem. In rehab, you beg your visitors to bring you all kinds of things: packs of gum, cartons of cigarettes, more cartons of cigarettes. I begged my family and friends to bring me Diet Coke. Every Saturday, my parents dutifully lugged a fridge pack of Diet Coke up the hill to the visiting area (thank you, Mom and Dad. For lots of things, but mostly for the Diet Coke). It may not have been the healthiest choice of beverage, but it was a solid step up from what I had been consuming.

It wasn’t until I got sober that I came to truly appreciate the deliciousness of Diet Coke. This is largely due to the fact that before then, I almost never drank Diet Coke unadulterated; I was always mixing it with something toxic, flammable and certain to get me into trouble. Once sober, however, my appreciation for the drink grew exponentially. One of the many things nobody tells you about navigating early recovery is that you’ll have to figure out what to order when you’re out once booze is clearly off the table. Sparkling water gets old after a while (there are only so many times you can be the person in your group of friends who says “just water for me” without feeling as flat as week-old Crystal Geyser). And while caffeine is the standard acceptable drug for recovering addicts and alcoholics, too much coffee turns my digestive system into molten lava. So the challenge is this: What beverage is available at pretty much every bar and restaurant, contains some (but not too much) caffeine and doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup (though, I acknowledge, it does contain artificial sweeteners that may, over time, make me grow a third ear)? One answer: delicious Diet Coke.

Every recovering alcoholic needs a go-to non-alcoholic beverage, and Diet Coke is mine. (I’m not alone; “True Blood” actor Stephen Moyer called the soda “the Patron Saint drink for alcoholics” in a People magazine interview in which he talked about his 14-year sobriety.) By the time I left rehab and moved into my sober living house, I was keeping one fridge pack in the refrigerator and another in the car, so I could immediately restock when I ran out. Sure, all that carbonated, syrupy goodness was probably turning my intestines to radioactive ash, but, well, it was so delicious. My blood-to-Diet Coke ratio during that first year of sobriety would likely have made any doctor weep.

At some point, though, I had to face the harsh reality that Diet Coke is not, in fact, a viable substitute for water. It was tough. My previous attempts to moderate, well, anything hadn’t gone particularly well.

But there are many ways in which Diet Coke is different for me from alcohol. Here’s my favorite: I can now moderate my intake of Diet Coke. All the ways in which I tried to keep my drinking under control actually work when it come to this beverage: I don’t keep it in my apartment, I only drink it if I am out with friends, and even then I try to consume a glass of water in between “drinks.” Also unlike my alcohol consumption, when it comes to Diet Coke, I only drink the good stuff. That syrupy fountain stuff? Shameful. I realize this is a slightly high-faluting position to take for someone who used to lap up the dregs of a bottle of Popov like a thirsty dog, but sometimes progress masquerades as snobbery. If it doesn’t come from that frosty silver can, if polar bears aren’t in the commercials during the holiday season, then I want no part of it.

All joking aside, it’s incredibly important for me to have a slightly wicked indulgence. One of the wonderful things about sobriety is learning how to take pleasure in things that don’t result in waking up in a Dumpster. I imagine that Diet Coke is for me what a nice glass of wine or a beer is for someone not addicted to alcohol: an occasional, satisfying treat. Something that makes sobriety just a little bit sweeter.


8 thoughts on “Diet Coke: It Hurts So Good

  1. Mine was regular Coke, for 18 years. Now I’m not so reliant on it, especially through cycling’ off-season. Still love the stuff though.


    1. It’s so delicious! I was just in Paris with wine drinking family, so I gave myself permission to drink all the DC I wanted. I try not to do that regularly, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I quit drinking 3 liters of diet coke a day with starting the morning with either warm, luke warm or cold water with fresh lemon juice in it. That woke me up :-D. I immediately quit all tea-ine containing teas aswell, just to make things easier. I don’t drink coffee.
    FYI, Doctor Joan Mathews Larson who is very much into the nutritional side of addiction is convinced that eating or drinking high amounts of sugar or aspartame for that matter enlarge cravings for alcohol because it de-stabelises your blood sugar levels and because they are addictive in itself, start cravings which can, by the body and mind be confused with alcohol cravings.
    It’s not one of the most popular messages but I think it is important to at least be aware of.


    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dr. Larson is right. I may not totally abstain from DC, but I know it’s not the healthiest choice. I will try lemon water in the a.m., though. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If you are interested in the theories behind it you could read her book ‘Seven weeks to sobriety’ is is all about the nutrition side of addiction. Beware: she has an unprocessed personal issue with AA which comes up quite aggressively. You might want to not let that get to you in order to read the good bits that come after that. It is well worth it, well, I think. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks, I will. I appreciate the warning, though, it will be a good chance for me to “take what I need and leave the rest” 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      3. 🙂 My theme of these days: addiction is about what you take in and leave out. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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